Contact with your instructor is very valuable and you shouldn’t hesitate to get in touch.  However, you want to make sure your email gets you the information you want in the most positive and efficient way possible, for both your sake and your instructor’s!  Here are some basics to remember:

  1. Don’t ask them something when the answer is readily available.
    Read the syllabus and check cuLearn first. Not surprisingly, being asked about something that is in the course outline is a major sore point for instructors. It wastes their time and it gives away the fact that you didn’t read the syllabus. Some other questions are the kind that can be answered with a basic Google search (like the definition of a term). If you want to go deeper, or if you couldn’t find the information in the outline, by all means send that email!
  2. Be courteous.
    That doesn’t mean you have to be rigidly formal, but use the proper salutation (if you aren’t sure, Professor X is generally safe) when you email them. Don’t use only their first name unless they have told you to, or have signed an email to you in that way. Keep your questions and comments polite. Don’t complain if you don’t get an immediate response! Instructors handle a lot of emails – give them time.
  3. Identify yourself and the course you are in.
    Most instructors teach more than one course so they need some context. Supplying your name is professional and appropriate. And you want to identify yourself, especially as an online student, so you can build a relationship with your instructor.
  4. Be precise and specific in your question.
    Make sure you include the information your instructor needs and make it clear what you need from them. A vague email is not going to get you the information you want.
  5. Don’t email multiple people (instructor, TA, department, CUOL).
    If you do, no one knows who has responded and you risk not getting an answer at all. Plus, it’s kind of rude. You don’t have to get all those people involved – one will do.
  6. Keep it short!
    Include relevant information but avoid going into too much unnecessary detail.
  7. Proofread your email to catch those auto-corrects, misspellings and missing words.
    Don’t risk leaving off the “o” in “hello”.
  8. Use your Carleton email address.
    Many personal email addresses can look like spam, especially if there is an attachment. And some have some pretty goofy names. Plus, Carleton’s communications policy states that you should be using your Carleton email when contacting instructors.
  9. Use the subject line well so it is relevant and useful.
    You want it to be easily identified when your instructor scans through their inbox.
  10. Thank your instructor for their response and help.
    It’s only polite, and it builds your relationship with them!

For more articles, see CUOL’s story archive.